Guy Gunaratne Recommends Five Books by Non-Male Authors
For our latest installment of Read More Women, the author of “In Our Mad and Furious City” offers prose, poetry, and drama
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A lot of people write about London, but nobody writes about London the way Guy Gunaratne writes about London. His book In Our Mad and Furious City, longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, is an energetic and affecting portrayal of young immigrant London, right down to the grime music and the slang. Most of his main characters are men, but like any truly well-rounded author, Gunaratne both writes and reads women—and he reads women across genres. His five recommendations include not only novels but poetry, memoir, and plays.
Read More Women is Electric Literature’s series, presented in collaboration with MCD Books, in which we feature prominent authors, of any gender, recommending their favorite books by women and non-binary writers. Twice a month, you’ll hear about the five non-male authors who most delight your favorite writers.
Hotel World by Ali Smith
The first line reads: “Woooooooo-hooooooo what a fall what a soar what a plummet what a dash into dark into light.” And that’s what it’s like to read this great rush of a novel. Rarely have I ever fallen in love with a book so deeply. The thing was singing to me, it was dancing around. Ali Smith is a marvel to me, honest to God. I’d like everyone, everywhere to read everything she has ever written. Not only because you’d be reading one of the planet’s consistently brilliant writers — but because you’d also have ball with every book. Start with Hotel World, then read her first novel Like, and then work your way chronologically. Or start wherever. Up to you.
Wide Open by Nicola Barker
I can see here, now I’ve picked my copy off the shelf, that there is a scene in this novel about a birth of a boar, which I seem to have underlined and made notes about. That passage (and if you’ve read it, you’ll know the one I mean) has stayed with me long after reading. The book creeps under your skin, into your nerves. I shiver just holding it — a feeling close to awe. A lot of the books I tend to love are impossible to describe. I could try with this one, but I really don’t think I should. What could I say: it’s about some odd people on the Isle of Sheppey? Imagine. Anyway, read it. It’s phenomenal.
God Resigns At the Summit Meeting by Nawal El Saadawi
This one is a play. It’s about a meeting on a mountain where the prophets and the great women of history come to request God’s help. Jesus, Muhammad, Moses and Satan all makes an appearance, as do Bill Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu. My favorite character has got to be Bint Allah, the daughter of God, an eighteen year old who is said to resemble Eve except that her hair is very short and she wears a pair of dancing shoes. “Her dress is cut above the knee.” This is a play about democracy, and the participation of women in the history of dissident acts. Essential, beyond question.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson writes like nobody else. The meditative attention she pays to her subject matter, in everything I’ve read from her, has left me for long periods of spaced out days convinced I’m changed forever. And it lasts, that feeling. Few writers possess the power to reconfigure how you see the world. She changes how you see and hear it. Makes you re-think the language you use to understand yourself. The Art of Cruelty is the other I’d recommend from her.
Brand New Ancients by Kate Tempest
Kate Tempest is among an array of British poets that I’m particularly excited about. A blistering, kick-you-in-the-face, book. It’s very thin, and once it’s over it’s like a little anarchist has run into your head and has stuck up squatters rights. Years from now, this poem — and this poet — will be spoken about as having influenced a generation. For me, reading Brand New Ancients, at a time when my first novel had only just begun teething, it gave me all the permission I needed to push on.